Dr. John

Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

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Dr. John's Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch is a collection of songs by and associated with fellow New Orleanian Louis Armstrong, one of the handful cats who put jazz on the map in the early years of the 20th century. Finely arranged by trombonist and co-producer Sarah Morrow, all of these 13 tracks feature guest stars and a great band. Dr. John goes right to the heart of Armstrong's music, opening with "What a Wonderful World," with a vocal intro by the Blind Boys of Alabama and trumpeter Nicholas Payton as a soloist. It's an illustration of just how much he "enjoys screwing with a good song." Though the song is oft-covered, this is likely the very first time it's been done as pure NOLA funk, with drummer Herlin Riley popping all over backbeat. "Mack the Knife," with Mike Ladd and Terence Blanchard, may start with a monster syncopated jazz-funk vamp, but the seeming distance in the exchange between the two vocalists feels unbridgeable. "Tight Like This" done with a slow, Afro-Cuban groove, features with Telmary and Arturo Sandoval. Unfortunately, Dr. John is all but absen and the tune suffers for it. "I've Got the World on a String" is a swinging, bluesy duet with Bonnie Raitt, with Pancho Sanchez dropping a sweet undercurrent of conga. "Gut Bucket Blues," a punchy, swaggering funk number, features a killer horn break from Payton. "Dippermouth Blues" is a driving, fat, front-line horn number, starring James "12" Andrews, while "Sweet Hunk O' Trash" is a wonderful duet with Shemekia Copeland that recalls thegood-natured back and forth that Armstrong and Billie Holiday displayed on their 1949 version. His distorted RMI keyboard solo takes it to -- and over -- the margin. Anthony Hamilton's vocal on "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is smooth as silk atop a soulful, contemporary jazz chart. It's followed by two selections with the McCrary Sisters. The first "That's My Home," is an easy R&B stroll with Wendell Brunious on flügelhorn. "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" is a stirring trad gospel arrrangement with Ledisi as Dr. John's duet partner. "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" is gorgeous NOLA souled-out R&B with Blanchard and the Blind Boys of Alabama. The closer, "When You're Smiling" is a greasy second-line read with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band that sends this set out romping. Though a couple of cuts fall short of the mark, and the set may have a few too many guests, Ske-Dat-De-Dat is a solid tribute to Armstrong. It does take chances and almost always pulls them off thanks to Dr. John's signature blend of musical imagination, wit, and savvy cool.

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